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An Eye for Designing with Antiques and Collectibles

by Christopher Kent (07/03/08).

Editor’s Note: Are your antiques and collectibles trapped in seclusion or piled up in the corner like junk mail? If you need help displaying your collection, send us your questions, and let our Worthologist, Christopher Kent, help resolve the problem.

Scale, Balance and Placement of Your Antiques and Collectibles

Scale is probably the most important word used in the design business and oftentimes the most misunderstood. By scale, we mean size, which also includes shape, dimension and proportion. The scale of your antique furniture, objects and collectibles plays a pivotal part in balance. For the sake of this article, balance does not mean symmetry but rather unifying the space within spatial constraints, which is then ultimately accomplished by placement. Sounds convoluted. Let me take the mystery out of it and give you some practical observations.

Scale—Claiming the Space

Above is pictured an interior wall in a dining room that has for the most part no existing architectural interest, meaning no crown molding, a somewhat insignificant baseboard, no chair rail or paneling. What it does have going for it is a pretty uninterrupted expanse that will take a large-scale piece of furniture, in this case a very formal 19th-century English, ebony credenza with Wedgwood plaque insets. Center it on the wall using it as the principal, backbone, starting point, and build out the wall from there. Rule of thumb: large-scale furniture for large rooms, small-scale furniture for small rooms.

Balance—Expanding on the Space

You will notice that the walls of this room are painted a soft, chalky yellow. The color acts as a natural foil and serves to complement rather than to compete with the use of strong black color that predominates the wall by way of the credenza and the unframed architectural drawing done in India ink on fiberglass. This drawing, measuring approximately 4 feet by 6 feet, is centered over the credenza and serves to balance the space above the credenza. Framing the drawing is a pair of Italian gilt metal-and-crystal candle sconces. When placed at equal distance beyond the credenza, they help to visually expand and balance the space.

Black candles are used in the sconces to continue the black color theme. The positioning of the pair of Queen Anne armchairs, which are dragged into service for diner parties, helps, too, to balance the sconces. What we’ve got here is organized layering. To juxtapose the balanced alignment of furniture, drawing and sconces, an oversized Dummy Board placed just off to the left provides an amusing visual distraction.

Placement—dare to be spare

There are just fifteen items on display on or in the credenza, ranging from a Chinese export teacup and saucer, and a 1950s tin toy to an 18th-century lacquered Chinese tea table. Each item, in this eclectic collection, has been selected from an over-large collection of good, bad and indifferent antiques and collectibles to demonstrate their diverse appeal and also to speak about the owner of the collection.

Placement of these items is not random but rather positioned with a seasoned eye to create order, balance and harmony even with the seeming randomness of the collection. An 18th-century iron gear is coupled with a granite goose-egg stone from Maine along with a marble urn that is displayed on top of the tea table creating, in turn, its own tablescape. A sepia photograph framed in brushed metal and silver acts as a magnate to draw people to the spot. (People love looking at photographs.) It also conceals a small up-spotlight that serves to illuminate the drawing at night. Glass Regency column candlesticks in hurricane glasses complete the tableau.

So, to effectively display your antiques and collectibles, aim for good scale, balance and placement.

– Christopher Kent is a member of the WorthPoint board of advisers and director of evaluations for WorthPoint. He is also an antiques and collectibles generalist, fine-arts broker and president of CTK Design.

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